When Arthur T. Demoulas climbed on the back of a truck to address thousands of cheering employees at the Market Basket headquarters in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, on Aug. 28, it created the triumphal moment for the region’s business saga of the year.
Demoulas’s return as the supermarket chain’s leader and owner-designate -– a deal he finally closed shortly before Christmas – followed a nearly 10-week-long open rebellion by 25,000 employees. They persuaded hundreds of thousands of customers to stop shopping at Market Basket until "Artie T" was restored securely as CEO, along with the culture he’d created of generous bonuses, lifetime jobs, and low prices.
"May we always remember this past summer first as a time when our collective values of loyalty, courage, and kindness for one another really prevailed, and in that process, we just happened to save our company," Demoulas said on that hot Thursday morning hours before the Labor Day Weekend kicked off.
In mid-December, Demoulas closed the $1.6 billion deal for his side of the family to buy out the side led by his cousin –- and arch-nemesis – Arthur S. Demoulas, who had engineered Artie T’s firing in June after decades of bitter feuding and epic lawsuits.
The 4 percent across-the-board discount Arthur T. had implemented at the chain’s 74 stores expires with the end of the year 2014 on Wednesday. But he has promised that the new debt load the company has taken on to buy out Arthur S. and his family won’t threaten Market Basket’s unique brand of "stakeholder capitalism" that puts company profits alongside good pay and good prices for shoppers as top priorities.
"We’re in the people business first and the food business second, and the best thing to do is to take care of the people and do what's right by the people," Demoulas said Aug. 28, a message he has reiterated many times before and since.
When Market Basket wasn’t dominating local business headlines, casinos were. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission awarded licenses to Plainridge Park in Plainville for a slots parlor and MGM Springfield for a $800 million urban "destination resort casino," and in September chose Las Vegas impresario Steve Wynn’s glitzy vision for a $1.6 billion casino in Everett over saving the Suffolk Downs race track with a Mohegan Sun resort in Revere.
Entering 2015, Wynn’s casino plan still faces some big hurdles, like winning over state environmental regulators and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh with assurances their transportation plans will succeed in preventing gridlock on Route 99 in Everett and Sullivan Square, Charlestown.
Walsh, who has to sign off on planned roadway changes Wynn is proposing on the Charlestown side of the Mystic River, has repeatedly stressed he has big concerns about the casino’s impact on the Charlestown neighborhood. "That’s lot of traffic, a lot of wear and tear in the community of Charlestown, and we have to make sure that we protect them," Walsh said in September, a concern he’s reiterated several times since.
With stocks rising, jobs and economic output growing, and gasoline prices plunging, at this point many trend lines look good for 2015. But ther is plenty of conflict – not just around casinos – looming in the coming months:
- Does Boston win – and does Boston clearly want – the U.S. Olympic Committee’s initial designation as a bidder for a 2024 Olympic games?
- Does Boston find a way to fairly regulate taxis and the smartphone-based upstart ride provider Uber and other ride-sharing services that cabbies say unfairly get out of all the safety regulations and licensing requirements they have to pay for?
- After months of controversy, bungled background checks by state Department of Public Health contractors, and bidders backing out after negative publicity, does the medical marijuana industry Massachusetts voters approved in 2012 finally take off?
- Can New England energy and environmental interests finally agree on the pipelines, power lines, and policies to bring down electric rates that have suddenly soared this fall, including a 37 percent rate spike Nov. 1 for National Grid customers in the Bay State? As National Grid Massachusetts president Marcy Reed puts it, the fundamental problem is that “there’s too much demand for not enough gas” to meet the region’s heating needs and to power all the gas-fired electric generating stations that have replaced coal and nuclear plants in the last decade. But environmentalists and landowners have battled against new pipelines, power lines, and connections to Canadian hydropower to meet electric demand and cushion rate shocks, and it’s debated whether renewable energy like wind power and more efforts to conserve can solve the crisis.
For a way through all these disputes, the region could certainly do well to follow the guiding principles of the man who’d almost certainly be electric New England Businessman of the Year – Arthur T. Demoulas, who said his credo for action is "fairness, justice, and a solid moral compass that unites all human souls."
It’s hard to imagine that we ever see another business story quite like the Market Basket uprising and the sacking and restoration of "Artie T."
And more than just one year’s top story, it’s left us with some profound questions that will linger long past the end of 2014m, like: What kind of businesses do we want to work for and spend our money with? And how can you be a leader who inspires deep, brave loyalty and even love?
With videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan